Meredith Vieira visits RIC for Portuguese and Lusophone World Studies conference

To embrace one’s heritage is to develop a deep appreciation not only for who you are, but also for the efforts of those who came before you. That was the message attendees took away when Meredith Vieira – native Rhode Islander, TV journalist, host of “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” and former “TODAY” show co-anchor – spoke at Rhode Island College on Oct. 14.

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Meredith Vieira, left, receives the Presidential Medal of Honor from RIC President Nancy Carriuolo on Oct. 14.
Vieira’s appearance was the highlight of RIC’s Institute for Portuguese and Lusophone World Studies conference. The two-day event focused on the cultural integration of Portuguese immigrants and their descendants in the U.S. and Canada.

“I spent my childhood basically denying who I was,” Vieira said, seated in front of the assembly.

Vieira said that to avoid being taunted by her peers as a child, she found herself denying her Portuguese-American roots and feeling estranged from her family’s social circle, composed mostly of full-blooded, first-generation Portuguese immigrants.

“I was ashamed that I had denied (my heritage) for so long,” Vieira said, speaking of her recent venture to the Azores archipelago. The trip, which she took along with her son and nephew, was part of a “TODAY” segment called “Today Looks Back: Discovering Our Roots.” In each installment, one of the program’s anchors was shown traveling to his or her country of ethnic origin and visiting the locales that pertained to their genealogy.

The “Today Looks Back” segment was played for attendees shortly before Vieira began speaking. It portrayed Vieira’s kin as a hard-working, self-reliant family.

“I’d like to think that I carry those characteristics with me,” Vieira said.

During Vieira’s appearance, RIC president Nancy Carriuolo announced that the TV anchor would be the recipient of the Presidential Medal. Carriuolo cited Vieira’s professionalism and hard work as part of her being “ excellent role model for young women everywhere, and especially young Portuguese-Americans.”